Saturday, April 24, 2010

Revision Heaven

Not every writer has to worry about revisions. We all know people who sit down at the keyboard, blithely type a story (maybe taking a break for hot chocolate when the going gets tough), and print their pages without ever having to fix so much as a comma.

Of course, those writers aren't the ones everybody loves to read.

The rest of us DO have to plan on revisions, at least once in a while. Whether those are prompted by an editor, by a critique partner or beta reader, or even just by that inner voice whispering "better take another look," we all know what it's like to embark on the revision process.

Some people love it. Some people hate it. Just about everyone has developed techniques to make it easier...and just about everyone has come up against questions like these:

* How long will my revision take?
* How extensive does it need to be?
* What made me think I could write?
* How important is this, really?
* Can I ignore that suggestion?
* How can I make it work better?
* When can I say "yep, it's finished"?
* Whose idea was this, anyway?
* Is she nuts, or does she just hate me?

You can see why so many writers talk about Revision Hell. But we can also make a case for calling it Revision Heaven.

Here's what some writers say:

* I love the brain work of figuring out how to change something. What I don't like is when I feel no brain power at all and have to do a major rearrange.

* Sometimes I am afraid if I tinker too much with a manuscript that I will ruin it. I love it when a revision makes the story so much better than it ever was as a draft.

* it's harder to measure progress, since the wordcount usually goes down instead of up -- it feels like "extra" work at the end

* Revisions...a feverish love hate intoxication for me. Love because the fever creates so much possibility. Hate because such possibility creates so much havoc. Perhaps the only cure for Revision Fever is a deadline.

* as necessary to the writing process as giving blood transfusions to a patient who has an active bleed.

* Once I get over the "it sucks" feeling, I know that I will produce a better novel.

Others note that it makes a difference who requested the revisions:

* If I'm doing it because someone ELSE demands it, then I'm trying to keep MY vision while I try to make the story reflect theirs. That's stressful.

* I like the word tracking system for editing, if the editor gives comments as to why I should change something. Some still edit with pen/highlighter and make notes in the side columns. I dislike that...

* How can you spot revision requests that may totally change the book or your voice -- have heard horror stories about that -- even have a couple of my own.

Then there's the problem of how much revision is enough.

* I'm a perpetual reviser ... it "stalls me" and sometimes it's hard to move forward if I get stuck in revising mode.

* When is it time to STOP doing revisions, take a deep breath and say FINI?

* I call myself a serial-editor because "just one more round" of edits couldn't hurt...I know there is a point where that is no longer true.

* When to stop revising, when to just say, "Enough already."

Finally, writers always appreciate more information on what WORKS when it comes to doing revisions.

* I would like to know what process other pantsers use, if they have one. I'm always open to trying new methods for making the tidying up process easier.

* What I'd love to know is how to make the process go faster.

* How do other authors do it? Do they go through a list of things to look for, one by one, so -- several times through the MS?

* Probably the most useful tips I find are hearing other writers speak about what works for them. Sometimes it gives me an idea for something I never thought of trying.

These comments are from people who've published extensively, and from people at work on their very first book. (Not to mention everything in between.) So no matter where you fall on that spectrum, your comments MATTER.


Because any tips you can share on revision techniques you've used will help someone who hasn't yet tried that idea. It doesn't have to be the Greatest Idea Ever...think brainstorming, where the goal is quantity. The more possibilites a writer has to choose from, the better the odds of finding something perfect for that writer.

Of course there's a prize for sharing, as well -- somebody who posts a tip (or more) on revision will win free registration to my August class on "His Personality Ladder" or my February class on "Plotting Via Motivation."

So...what's your experience with revisions? What do you love about 'em? Hate about 'em? What have you discovered as you revise?

(And, by the way, I'd love to use your tips in my Revision Heaven class next month -- but if you'd rather not be quoted, just mention that when you post.)

Meanwhile, thanks to Alexis, Jeffe, Nina, Kathleen, Eve, Donna, Kris, Mary, Kathy, Laurie, Sharon, Joan, Kath, Ann, Nana, Charlotte and Bonni for sharing their revision thoughts last week -- and thanks to all of YOU who'll share yours here!

Laurie, visiting the Diabetes Expo today but checking in whenever I get a laptop break because I can't wait to see what people are saying

~ ~ ~

Laurie Schnebly Campbell chose her website so people would find it easy to Book Laurie for programs...because there's nothing she loves more than working with other writers! After winning "Best Special Edition of the Year" over Nora Roberts, she began writing about how to create believable characters and teaching workshops like "Revision Heaven" -- May 3-28 at


Ann Charles said...

Great article, Laurie.

Here's a revision tool I use. I make a one- to two-page table/spreadsheet on which I list all plot threads for each main and secondary character on the verticle column (left hand side). Across the top of the table/spreadsheet, I list the chapters from left to right. Then, as I read through the rough draft, I note (with an X) if the thread is pulled through the chapter. This helps me keep track of all threads and see if I should weave more or less of a thread, and keep or delete a thread.

I also have a similar table for checking for the five senses(or at least 4 of them--taste can be tough sometimes) in every scene in my book.

Ann Charles

Emma Leigh said...

Great post, Laurie. I, unfortunately, don't have any great insight for revisions. I absolutely hate them. They are a necessary evil that usually has me procrastinating at every turn. However, once completed it is very gratifying to see the improved finished product.

Darlene said...

I go through and mark all the unnecessary words I put in the first draft -- e.g. just -- and adverbs. I may not revise the sentences right away, but it helps me see which sentences I have to make stronger if I keep them in the final draft.


Sharon Buchbinder said...

Ann--As one who loves EXCEL, I think I'm going to have to use your tool for my next very complicated novel. Thanks! My favorite technique is this. When I think I am done with revisions, I ask a couple of trusted SHARP beta readers who are not relatives (hehe!) to take my baby and mark it up with any unanswered questions, loose threads, ICKY pieces. They catch what I don't--and raise interesting questions and observation. Luckily, they still want to read my work and keep rooting for me!

Joanne Brothwell said...

Laurie, I'm glad I read this today, because I have just completed another revision of my ms, and I've been saying I'm done, but I can already feel another revision coming on...

JC Coy said...

Read your work out loud and see what it really sounds like. You will find mistakes and clunky wording this way.

Kath Calarco said...

I come up with revision rules all the time. Here's my newest: Write three pages; the next day revise them, but continue with three new ones thereafter; each day only allow yourself to review the previous day's "new" three, but always write three new pages.

In the past I've had the tendency to read EVERYTHING I wrote from page one before beginning new pages. Really awful habit, and so very non-productive.

(I also read to my dog for her reaction. Best crit-partner I ever had!)

Karyn Good said...

Hi Laurie and warm welcome to the Prairies. Thanks for a great post.

For the most part, I enjoy revising. I'm currently revising my last NaNoWriMo project and experimenting with the story board idea. I'm working with sticky notes but I like the idea, as others have mentioned, of using a spreadsheet system. I'm still working on developing a revision process that works for me.

I also like to read aloud and I have a list of words to Find and Replace.

Thanks for joining us today!

Silver James said...

You have some terrific advice here, Laurie! Once upon a time, I wrote a chapter, then went back to read it before writing the next chapter...but I ended up doing so many edits and revisions I seldom got to the end of the story! Then I discovered National Novel Writing Month. As I am highly competitive, there was no way I wouldn't get those 50K words written in 30 days. That experience broke me of editing while I go. Now I write the whole book THEN edit and revise.

I also tend to write in "stream of consciousness." I want to know what every character is seeing, thinking, feeling, and doing. Yes, I know. A POV nightmare. During revisions, I decide which POV is the most compelling and revise the scene to reflect that. It's a pain, and I am trying to train my Muse differently. She's rebelling but I'm making progress.

My last tip is making a time line after the first draft. Sometimes, the line gets as specific as measuring minutes and hours, as well as days, weeks, etc. I do this to make sure my characters can "move" in an appropriate time frame. I don't write TV segments where time is relative. I want the passage of time to be realistic. I've been pulled out of books because the left side of my brain thought, "Whoah! They drove cross-country in like two hours?" That's extreme but...I hope you'll get the idea. Consistent time is necessary when a writer "jumps forward" to the next bit of action, leaving all the boring day-to-day stuff out but still leaving the reader with a sense of an appropriate amount of time having passed.

Hope some of these help. I' to Not quite hell, but certainly not heaven. ;)

Linda Ford said...

Revision heaven? I'm no so sure I agree with that. But I do know it is an essential part of producing a good story.

For me there are two distinct kinds of revisions--the overall idea, story revision when I make sure all the story steps are there and the gmc is solid throughout the story and in evey scene.

The second part is the editing/polishing part. For that I have two programs I love/hate. Autocrits which allows me to plug in my manuscript pages then in colored highlighting reveals repeated words and phrases, words used too often, etc. Very pretty but also very tedious to go through and improve my 'style.' The second is Text Aloud which reads the story aloud to me. I purposely keep the boring voice that comes with the program because it forces me to listen to each word. Again, it's a great way to polish. I should, perhaps, mention that I write quickly and while I try and write as well as I can I don't labor over things that these two programs help me see.

On the other hand, using these two programs, especially Autocrits, seems to infuse my subconscious mind with better writing.

Just a few things that work for me.

Linda Ford

Helena said...

Welcome to the Prairie, Laurie. I have just skimmed your post, but I will be back at a later time to further "digest" your excellent points. I have a drive ahead of me this morning to get to the monthly SRW meeting.

Incidentally, count me in the company of those who love revising. I enjoy trying to make order out of the chaos of a first draft where the ideas just spilled out -- not necessarily coherently, or in the best order. But I need all the help I can get in doing my revising, so thank you so much for adding to the hopper today.

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...

I love a comment box that says "Hey, we'd love to hear from you. Comment away." That's gotta be typical prairie friendliness, right?

Thanks for the welcome, all you prairie folks! And thanks for all the WONDERFUL revisions thoughts, everybody who's already dropped in. I got a kick out of seeing Sharon already planning to try Ann's -- it's SO cool watching writers in action. :)

More to come, but this is just a "nice to be here" and looking forward to more!

Laurie, not sure if driving from Baton Rouge to Flagstaff via Fort Smith and Amarillo counts as time on the prairie?

Anonymous said...

The only part of revising that seems heavenly is finishing.

Laurie, is there a method for revision that makes it as simple as your plotting-via-motivation makes plotting?


NinaP said...

Hey Laurie! Great post. I am defiantly a perpetual serial-editor. I enjoy editing more than I enjoy writing, most days. But ya gotta bake the cake before you can icing it.

Something that has helped me immeasurably (it has also helped solidify my "voice") is reading my work aloud, to someone. At first, it felt like walking through the mall naked, but I adapted, and now I have regular reads with a dear friend who is often in need of company. It's a win-win for both of us.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Laurie,
Welcome to the Prairies! We represent the north of the 49th parallel prairies up here in Canada but we'll definitely claim you as an Honorary Chick!

I used to hate revision until I finally got the idea that, as Helena said, revision makes order out of chaos. To avoid revisions I tried to make my first draft as clean as possible, which meant endless edits and not much finishing. Then I allowed myself to write a lousy first draft and get to "The End". I know now that I can (usually) make my story stronger with subsequent revisions.

My tip is to note with a colored font in the body of the first draft whereever you know you are going to need more research, or you've left a loose end, or you have a question. This allows you to keep writing, knowing that you'll answer all your questions later in the revision stage.


Mary Ricksen said...

You said it all.

Me I hate revisions, I abhor them, but I like when they make the story better.
Imagery is my thing, I overdo it.

Misty Evans said...

Hi Laurie. I could relate to many of the comments from other writers in your article. Revising can be both heaven and hell for me, but usually, it is what it is - a tool to make my story better.

Before I send a manuscript to my editor, I make several passes through it. For each scene, I take a Goldilocks approach: is there too much or too little physical detail? Is there too much or too little emotional detail? Once I get those elements just right, I make sure the plot is advanced in the scene and then hammer at my opening and ending sentences to make sure they're snappy and pull the reader in.

When I get the manuscript back from my editor, I make all the simple corrections and changes first, then tackle the more in depth ones, and I always discuss any of her suggestions that bother me. Sometimes that's all it takes to work it out. I get a different viewpoint and 99% of the time, my editor is spot on. I owe much of my success to her sharp eye and ability at making me dig a little deeper.


Liz Fichera said...

I read a quote recently from the artist, Matisse. He said that true greatness always comes after you do something again. In other words, I think, it's never perfect the first time. And don't expect it to be.

As a writer, I just know when something doesn't work or feel right. Nine times out of ten, an editor or beta reader will agree--and usually give me another handful of things to change!

Great post! Very informative.

Dawn Atkins said...

Great information, Laurie. After publishing more than twenty books, I find revision to be a different animal with every book. The more I have in my bag of revision tricks, the happier I am.
Daphne Atkeson
w/a Dawn Atkins
A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS, HQ SuperRomance, 11/10

P.L. Parker said...

I usually write four or five pages then I got back through those pages with a fine tooth comb. When I'm satisfied, I move on. Of course there's always those times at the very end when I doing a final check and I have to make a few changes. Then I let my friend readers take over and change things per their suggestions.

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...

Hurray, finished with the Diabetes Expo for another year (anybody else out there celebrating 50 years as a diabetic?) and now I get to dive into Revision comments.

Of So MANY great ideas, and so MUCH confirmation that we all go through that (fun or painful) struggle to make the work better, better, better.

Emma, Joanne, Helena, Mary, Liz and Daphne...good luck with the next batch of revisions!

Laurie, looking next at the read-aloud observations because it'd be so cool to reply "I hear you" :)

rllallen said...

I, too, am a serial reviser. I often find myself caught up in re-reading, but my writing time at the moment is so sporadic, sometimes I need that to get back into the story. I also relish those missed gems that manage to hide themselves in my paragraphs somehow--small, throwaway things that just "seemed right to stick in" at the time, that upon re-reading suddenly tie big chunks of plot together, and let me fix the soft spots elsewhere with minor changes.

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...

Reading the work aloud...the fact that J.C., Kath, Karyn, Linda and Nina ALL recommend that makes me wish I'd started doing it a long time ago.

I kept hearing such advice and thinking "good grief, why bother when I KNOW my voice and my character voices are coming through clearly?"

Turns out the one thing I missed was -- ulp -- typos. It wasn't until I narrated my latest for Talking Books that I realized: things I'd just skimmed past when proofing visually, jumped right off the page when reading aloud.

It seems like a lot of work before mailing off the finished ms, but next time I'm gonna do that for sure!

Laurie, a big fan of Talking Books which supposedly has information for the blind (or handicapped who can't read regular books) at every library in North America

Julie Rowe said...

My number one revision tip is to read your work out loud to yourself.

You catch so many mistakes, dropped words, and awkward sentences by reading out loud.

Number two is to give yourself time away from your manuscript. Objectivity is tough to obtain if you're constantly going over it, so put it aside for a week or two or three (the longer the better) then read it out loud. You won't believe the things you see.

Then I have a list of things I look for:

Removing the word 'that' wherever possible.

Use contractions.

Watch out for qualifier words like actually and really - they reduce the power of your sentence.

Use descriptive nouns and verbs. Instead of 'really angry', say furious. Instead of saying 'he walked across the room' say 'he strode across the room'.

Vary sentence length and use short sentences to deliver important information.

Great post, Laurie! I'm signing up for your class!

Cheers, Julie rowe

Heather said...

loved all the comments and suggestions. I have been putting off the revising for far too long. Am going to try the large piece of paper and a chart, will also need a time line.

mowriter said...

After reading all the great comments I thought there was nothing left to say. But, since a number of you have suggested 'reading the text aloud' as a tool, I'll put my two cents worth into that. I used to read my work aloud to a dear friend but she isn't always available. Then I discovered that it was not the listening but the speaking that did the job.
Now, I just read it to myself. The trick, I think, is in having to read each and every syllable. That way, I know exactly what my text says and what it doesn't.
I happen to be blessed/cursed with a vivid imagination. The blessing is that I can visualize indelible characters at the drop of a hat. The curse is that my imagination tricks me into believing I've put the vivid description into my writing when, often, I have not.
I recently completed edits for my next publication and my editor brought out all(ALL)the places where I'd assumed description that simply was not in the text. Humbling but it made the book much better in the end.
She turned revision hell into revision heaven, and I thanked her for it.
My take,
Pat Dale

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...

Tools can be as simple or as complex as it takes to do the job, and we've got a great range here.

Like Darlene's, Linda's and Julie's methods of flagging unnecessary words, Ann's spreadsheet, Jana's and Linda's colors, Pat's reading to herself...

Misty doing the simple edits first. Robin revising whenever she can find time. Sharon, Nina, Liz and P.L. enlisting other readers. Kath revising after three pages, Silver after the entire book.

And Julie, Sharon and Heather already spotting new things they want to try -- how cool!

Laurie, coming back for Naomi's question about a "simple" method :)

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...

One more question about whether I have a method that makes revision as simple as PVM makes plotting -- it all depends on what kind of class WORKS for you!

You folks from past classes will remember how there are daily lectures and three (always optional) homework assignments a week...the kind you can save for when you're DOING the plot or revisions or whatever the topic is, or do right on the spot.

So if that kind of thing works for you, I'd say the class is tremendously helpful -- and if it doesn't, I'd say don't waste your money. :)

Laurie, figuring the only point in paying for a class is if you figure it's something you can use!

Anonymous said...

Hiya Laurie:

I love revisions! I could go on forever rewriting what I just rewrote but I do apply some discipline so once in a while I write something new.

The main thing I look for is repetition. There are so many ways and so many situations where you present the same thing. I like my work to be tight, fast paced and repeating actions, no matter how exciting, does slow it down.

Picking up great tips here,
Petrina (Pet) Aubol

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...

One more question about whether I have a method that makes revision as simple as PVM makes plotting -- it all depends on what kind of class WORKS for you!

You folks from past classes will remember how there are daily lectures and three (always optional) homework assignments a week...the kind you can save for when you're DOING the plot or revisions or whatever the topic is, or do right on the spot.

So if that kind of thing works for you, I'd say the class is tremendously helpful -- and if it doesn't, I'd say don't waste your money. :)

Laurie, figuring the only point in paying for a class is if you figure it's something you can use!

Donna said...

Hey Laurie!
I'm editing my first novel right now! Your blog couldn't have come at a better time. I'm plodding along as I see all the mistakes I've made and trying to quell my stomach when it begins to curdle at the wretched writing! These suggestions will really help!

Celia Yeary said...

To me, it's Revision Hell. Why? Because I don't understand the exact term and how it differs from re-writes. I successfully "revised" only one ms I was asked to do, because the editor showed me what she wanted. It turned out to be only editing, in my opinion. Editing, I can handle--I like to clean up a ms. but to re-vise or re-write? Very difficult and confusing. Great article. Celia

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...

One last THANK YOU to everybody who chimed in with ideas yesterday -- this has been such a treat!

And now you Prairie Chicks have got me wishing I lived north of the 49th parallel...not sure if Victoria counts? If so, I'll be there in September. :)

The prize-drawing announcement is coming up later today, but meanwhile I wanted to let you all know how much I appreciate your sharing all those great tips (and vivid grips, as well) about revisions -- thanks, everybody!

Laurie, off to the first pool party of the year and wishing Phoenix didn't get SO hot SO soon

Amber Scott said...

I can't tell how much it helps just knowing I'm not the only one with sweaty palms over the revision process. Every time I think I've nailed a draft, I end up going back, fear in my belly, and seeing it needs more work. These tips are great. Thanks so much, Laurie!

Kathleen Grieve said...

A lot of great information, Laurie! But, I'm so glad I've tucked my last one away! See you soon,